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Tajik Woman Says Police Detained, Threatened Her Over Islamic Head Scarf In Anti-Hijab Raid

Nilufar Rajabova says that one of the arresting officers threatened to rape her.

A Tajik woman has accused Dushanbe police of insulting and threatening her after she was detained along with some two dozen others at a raid targeting women wearing Islamic headwear.

Nilufar Rajabova says she was taken from a minibus by police and officials from the state Committee for Women’s Affairs on December 14.

The officials told her the reason for her detention was her Islamic hijab and took her to the Sino district police station along with four other women passengers also wearing head scarves.

Tajikistan, a Muslim-majority country of some 9 million people in Central Asia, has banned the wearing of the hijab in schools, offices, and public places as part of a broader campaign against what authorities describe as religious extremism.

Rajabova said there were some 20 other women at the police station, rounded up from streets, bazaars, and other places for breaching the ban.

“Officials told us we should move to Afghanistan or Iran if we want to wear the hijab. They said we’re ruining the city’s look with our clothing,” Rajabova told RFE/RL on December 16.

Hijab 'Hooliganism'

The women were initially given a lecture about the ban, forced to remove their Islamic headgear, and were offered a smaller kerchief to wear instead of the hijab.

But on December 18, the Dushanbe city court ordered Rajabova to pay a fine of about $56 after accusing her of "hooliganism."

The charge against Rajabova stems from an official complaint filed by Raano Abdulloeva, an official in the Sino district’s Women’s Affairs Department.

Rajabova rejects the charge.

The court and the Women's Affairs Department refused to comment.

Rajabova is the daughter of Rahmatullo Rajab, an official of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) who currently is serving a prison term along with several other leading members of the party.

It is unclear if Rajabova’s detention in the anti-hijab raid was connected to her father’s case.

But Rajabova says the officers' attitude toward her changed when she told them her name and tried to take a photo of the forms police gave the women to fill out.

She also protested the detention as a breach of women’s rights and the country’s laws.

"Two officers then dragged me to the basement.... My legs still hurt from that. They told me they would lock me up for 15 days," Rajabova said, adding that one officer threatened to rape her.

After holding Rajabova for some 10 hours in the basement, officials contacted her mother who came and took her home.

When contacted by RFE/RL, the Sino district police office didn’t deny Rajabova had been detained but rejected allegations of mistreatment.

'Not Uncommon'

Interior Ministry spokesman Umarjon Emomali also denied that police "detain" women for wearing hijabs, and said the officials merely gather women for "explanatory" purposes.

Many Dushanbe residents, however, say the raids targeting hijab-clad women are not uncommon in the city.

One woman claimed she and several other hijab-wearing women were detained in Dushanbe’s Korvon bazaar recently.

The woman said they were being taken to a police station but she managed to escape when the vehicle stopped along the way. She spoke on condition of anonymity citing security reasons.

Rajabova adds that she wasn’t allowed to enter the Shohmansur district government office last year because of her Islamic clothing.

Tajik police have in recent years also detained young men with bushy beards and often have them shaved off before releasing them.

Tajik authorities began restricting the hijab in 2007, when the country’s Education Ministry banned both Islamic clothing and Western-style miniskirts at universities.

The government eventually expanded the ban to all institutions and public places, while promoting traditional Tajik clothing instead.

In 2018, authorities introduced a 376-page guideline -- The Guidebook To Recommended Outfits In Tajikistan -- that outlines what Tajik women should wear for different occasions.

Tajikistan has also closed down all but one Islamic madrasah, prohibited minors from attending mosqus, and outlawed the IRPT -- which used to be an influential opposition party and also member of the governing coalition -- after declaring it a "terrorist" organization.

The government justifies the moves as necessary to curtail the threats of extremism. Critics, however, accuse the government of restricting citizens' freedom and rights.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service